Local religious icon, Monsignor John V. Sheridan dies

Archbishop of Los Angeles Cardinal Roger Mahoney will preside over a Requiem Mass for Sheridan Friday morning at Our Lady of Malibu Church.

By Melonie Magruder / Special to The Malibu Times

Monsignor John V. Sheridan, pastor emeritus of Our Lady of Malibu Catholic Church and local religious icon, died Friday morning of heart failure. He was 94.

Sheridan had been in critical condition since Aug. 25, when he was involved in a car crash that killed Sister Mary Campbell and injured Pepperdine University law professor and U.S. Ambassador to Malta Douglas Kmiec.

Sheridan was the author of 14 books on faith and the church, a theological scholar, a religious broadcaster for national radio programs such as “Hour of Faith,” an advocate for those facing death and an untiring champion of disenfranchised inner-city youth.

A native of County Longford, Ireland, Sheridan moved to Southern California after a bout of tuberculosis and overcoming a morphine addiction that his family credited with “giving him a life-long empathy for any kind of suffering.”

The scope of Sheridan’s years in serving the Los Angeles Catholic community is vast, encompassing four different archbishops, countless ecumenical articles and short stories, numerous diocesan appointments and community service directorships and innovative programs to help the disheartened faithful, such as one of spiritual renewal based on Alcoholics Anonymous’ 12 steps.

Sheridan graduated from Saint John’s Seminary in Camarillo and was ordained at Cathedral Chapel of St. Vibiana in Los Angeles in 1943. In 1964, he was named by Pope Paul VI as “Chaplain to His Holiness” (monsignor) and, in 1988, was conferred with the honor of Domestic Prelate by Pope John Paul II.

Because his grandmother’s family was Presbyterian, Sheridan said he could “instinctively identify with non-Catholics” and became the first Catholic priest in the Los Angeles area to speak in Protestant churches.

Serving in several Los Angeles area parishes, Sheridan recognized the cyclic challenges of poverty for inner-city youth and dedicated himself to advocacy for communities plagued by gangs. In 1944, he was honored by the LAPD with the first award honoring those who work with gang youth, which was followed by 20 other major national commendations, including a Presidential Citation, a National Urban League Award, a Malibu Times Citizen of the Year Dolphin Award, the Cardinal’s Award and an Honorary Doctorate of Law from Pepperdine University.

Sheridan served as pastor at Our Lady of Malibu from 1965 to 1990 and remained as pastor emeritus until his death, usually shadowed by his confidant, friend and caretaker, Sister Mary. Throughout the OLM congregation and in the Malibu community at large, Sheridan was revered as a man of profound faith, intellectual curiosity, unpretentious hospitality and gentle optimism whose big tent of devotion was open to people of all faiths, classes and cultures.

“Monsignor John Sheridan was a man of nobility and effortless kindness,” Malibu City Councilmember Lou La Monte said. “He was a shining beacon for this city and merely being in his presence was enough to inspire us to become better, stronger and more loving. He has always been a courageous and loyal friend to our community and our family. He was truly a great man and we shall miss him dearly.”

Fellow councilmember Pamela Conley Ulich said, “He was a ray of light. You always left an encounter with monsignor feeling better. If you described Sister Mary as ‘love in action,’ then Monsignor Sheridan was pure love.”

Conley Ulich said she admired Sheridan’s ease in working with other faith leaders in the community.

“The true leaders in this town aren’t political,” she said. “They’re our religious leaders. He made us take stock of our own lives and realize that what is most important is the love we show one another. He was a real role model.”

A memorial Mass will take place at the church Thursday this week at 7:30 p.m. Archbishop of Los Angeles Cardinal Roger Mahoney will preside over a Requiem Mass Friday at 11 a.m. The church parking lot will be closed to all vehicles except those displaying handicapped placards. However, shuttles will transport visitors from the parking lot behind City Hall and, when that is full, from the Bluffs Park lot.

Former Malibu Mayor Ken Kearsley wrote about Sheridan in an email, saying, “It is a once in a lifetime privilege that we have been able to have Monsignor John Sheridan as our neighbor, friend and pastor. He touched everyone he met in some special way. [Irish playwright] Sean O’Casey must have had monsignor in mind when he said, ‘Every action of our lives touches on some chord that will vibrate for eternity.’”

Sheridan is survived by his brother Tommy Sheridan and sister Kathleen Sheridan in Ireland, along with several nieces, nephews, grandnieces and grandnephews.

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